Alison Kerry went down to the Wood Festival this weekend and she was sure of a big surprise. But just how good is Oxford's eco-friendly event?
This little sister festival to the bigger, trendier Truck Festival, is an ecological Mecca for the altruist and the curious alike. It couldn’t be better placed among the 55 acres belonging to Braziers House in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire, Braziers Park. This is a place that also operates as an educational trust holding residential courses throughout the year in everything from yoga retreats to sacred arts to effectively communicating within a community.
The family-centric Wood Festival runs entirely on renewable energy and has grown considerably since its humble beginnings of a few hundred hippies in a field. This third outing creates a mini-city of cultural workshops for the whole family during the day with music starting late afternoon and carrying on until the wee hours. The main stage - the Wood stage – has no troubles this year with its solar power due to the idyllic weather conditions. The Cycle powered Disco Tent, which relies on pedal power of the punter to keep the keep the tunes flowing was as popular as ever.
In the Workshop Village in close proximity to the Tree Tent and Wood stages, a series of Yurts house mini-courses on everything from urban organic gardening to building a hedge hog hut to felt making, to making musical instruments from junk to traditional thatching and wood working. This year there’s an addition of a full time Poetry Slam tent, which proves popular. The Saplings Tent was just for kids and started early (7.30am) for those parents looking to keep the little ones busy with wood painting, singing and other art projects.
The weather only adds to the incredibly relaxed vibe on site. Such was the heat this year; those who weren't involved in workshops could be seen retreating from the midday sun to the surrounding woodlands for a nature walk in the cool shade.
Overall – 9/10
As one of the first camping festivals of the year, it’s always going to be hit or miss with the weather. After two cold rainy years, it was third time lucky for Wood with baking hot sunshine and not a cloud in the sky throughout the weekend. With a capacity of just 1,000 in such stunning surrounds, it feels more like country fete than a festival. If you fancy something other than music, you can get involved in a Poetry Slam, make a musical instrument or wooden furniture and even learn a traditional country craft. After all of that you can lounge in the lush grass while eating top quality organic food and drink.
Getting there and back – 7/10
Fairly quick, easy bus connections from both Oxford and Reading, followed by a short walk down a picturesque country lane to Braziers Park. Or you can travel via an organised cycle ride from Oxford. You drop your bags with an organiser in town who then drives your camping equipment to the festival on Friday while you take a more eco-friendly route with a group of riders.
The site – 9/10
A small and manageable site in one tree-lined field within Braziers Parks, meaning it only takes a few minutes to run back to the tent for more suncream or another layer of clothes. Dotted around the main field are a series of thatched seating platforms, perfect for a respite from the heat, many of which were made at last year's festival thatching workshop. The food is all organic and lovingly prepared. The Hippy Arms bar tent is run by local brewery Cotswold Lager with outstanding organic cider and lager on the drinks menu. The composting toilets in raised wooden huts with a sign posted that says, "thank you for your deposit", are relatively odour free even with the heat. The water points are rigged with foot pedals so you use the least amount of water possible and of course eco-friendly soap is provided. There's even an outdoor shower which for such a small festival is a luxury. The whole site is immaculately clean with punters respectfully making full use of the many recycling points.
Atmosphere – 9/10
Intimate and family oriented, this festival is exceptionally friendly. Tenting neighbours introduce themselves and a wonderful sense of community is felt around the site. The weather couldn't have been better to enhance this relaxed atmosphere.
Music – 7/10
The music is a mix between traditional folk, indie folk and local Oxfordshire artists. This year sees performances from Fionn Regan, Neil Halstead, Cate le Bon, Frank Turner, Martin Simpson and The Candyskins and many more. This couldn't be a more perfect soundtrack to this rare and perfect British summer weekend. If it's a rave in a field you're after, this is not the festival for you.
Danny And The Champions of the World
Always a crowd pleaser, Danny and the Champs kick off the party on Friday night and their set is the talk of the festival for the rest of the weekend. Danny even popped back to Wood Sunday afternoon, after a gig in Liverpool on Saturday night, for a CD signing session at the merchandise stall. That led to an impromptu acoustic set outside The Hippy Arms pub tent drawing an enormous crowd.
Opening the Wood Stage musical programme on Saturday afternoon are the unsigned electro-folk collective hailing from Birmingham, Malpas. They mix acoustic guitar and drums with synth and a flute. Not over complicated, not too trendy, just beautiful sounds superbly performed.
With nearly every attendee now in the main field for ready for a party on Saturday night, Tunng don't disappoint. They may appear traditional folk on looks alone but they take it to another level by mixing electro-loops, banjo, keyboards, wonderful harmonies and (shock-horror for a trad-folk fan) electric guitar riffs to blow your head off. They certainly get the mood just right with this stunning performance.
It's always the loos, isn't it?
Wood's organisers had no choice but to bring in five portaloos on Saturday early evening. A main stage announcement was made to ensure these are the most eco-friendly plastic boxes they could find. To be fair, the perfect weather contributing to their first-ever capacity crowd this weekend, they really didn't have much choice. It would have been considerably less eco-friendly and much more unpleasant if we all went in the woods. I'm sure they're already planning more sustainable loos for next year.
Attempts to stay for Frank Turner's Sunday night slot had to be abandoned due bus/train Sunday timetables out of this country idyll and Monday morning commute beckoning. Thoughts of selling up and investing in a Yurt suddenly don’t seem like fantasy anymore.
Whilst enjoying a sit down and a chat around the campfire at dusk, I was given a glow-stick bracelet by a charming boy around 9 years old who in all seriousness said, "I don't like to wear them, myself, but I do like giving them out to other people." Keep spreading the love, young man. And long may it continue among the next generation of festival-goers.
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